An aboriginal cultural advisor who works with Edmonton’s homeless says he was targeted because of his race by security officers who banned him from a downtown mall.
“It was humiliating. I can’t even say the word, it was humiliating and it hurt me,” said Gary Moostoos, whose work with Boyle Street Community Services often has him in the mall, meeting with homeless people who gather there.
“I see this every day, and I feel it every day.”
Moostoos says that he was eating in City Centre Mall’s food court Monday afternoon when he was approached by a pair of mall security officers who demanded his name.
When he asked why, Moostoos said the officers told him they’d been watching him.
“They said, ‘Well, you look like a person who is a suspicious. You are observed as portraying suspicious activity’ or something of that sort.’”
Moostoos said the officers then accused him of having previously been banned from the premises.
“I said, ‘I’m not banned from here. You see me every day. .. you know who I am’.”
Banned for six months
Moostoos said he has heard stories from homeless people he works with about being targeted by security at the mall, but was surprised with the way that he was approached. He then asked to speak with a supervisor, who showed up within minutes.
The supervisor took his I.D. and checked his name to see if he had been previously banned from the mall. Moostoos said the check came back clean, but the supervisor still insisted that he leave the building.
When he asked why, she accused him of becoming aggressive with her a year earlier and said he had been seen pushing peace officers, both of which he denied. She said he’d been seen associating with others who had caused trouble in the mall and had been seen “rescuing people,” both in the building and in the area outside.
Moostoos said his job as an advisor at Boyle Street often requires him to meet and speak with gang members and others.
“You cannot tell me who I can and cannot associate with. It is my work,” he said. “I can’t turn people away.”
Moostoos said several more security staff arrived and escorted him out of the food court. When he tried to turn to go to the mall’s security office to speak about the matter, they instead directed him out another door and across the street.
It was there that they handed him a piece of paper that told him he had been banned from City Centre Mall for six months.
“For what, I don’t know. I was just sitting there, eating noodles,” he said.
“Then it hit me. I was like, ‘Oh, my god, this is what my people go through every day.’ And that’s when I broke. And I cried.”
Mall looking into incident
Moostoos took to social media to publicise what happened, writing a Facebook post that spread quickly.
“Because I've seen it time and time again. The way that they treat my people. I pick and choose my battles. If I were to go to battle with everything that I see at that place, or everywhere in the city, I would be drained.”
On Tuesday, City Centre Mall said released a statement, saying it will investigate how security handled the incident.
“Management will be conducting an investigation that will include reviewing the engagement by security, the policies we have in place and the training we provide,” the mall wrote in a release.
It also said it would reach out to Moostoos to discuss what happened.
In the meantime, the cultural advisor said the incident has left him exhausted and wondering how he can continue his work. He said his experience is part of a larger problem faced by aboriginal people across Canada.
But he takes comfort in the messages of support from people within Edmonton and beyond.
“It’s just overwhelming the support that's coming from across the nation, and that in itself is emotional. I feel I don't speak for myself but I speak for the people across this country.”